Today I did two things with the Rift: flew in DCS (Digital Combat Simulator), and flew in a Piper Warrior II (my old trainer) from my old home strip (KOQN) in X-Plane 11. Thoughts on each …
DCS was great. Easy setup and ran right out of the box. I only have the default aircraft and areas, and nothing in the default fighter is clickable, but the headset and controllers worked fine. Graphics were great with no stutters or juddering. The effect is jaw-dropping, and I felt a little shudder of spatial disorientation more than once. Looking around the cockpit is an incredible experience, and I can’t wait to get more into DCS in the coming weeks. Expect more posts about that here soon.
But while the DCS flights were fun, it was the pattern work in the VR headset at my old strip, in a Warrior II with a 3D cockpit like the one I used to fly there, that was most interesting. I flew three laps of the pattern. All I can say is that it was almost just like the real thing, and a MUCH more realistic experience than flying those patterns in the real basement sim cockpit. Why was this? First was still being able to use a physical yoke and pedals. For me being able to physically “hold onto the airplane” is important to the realism of the flight. Second was having the VR cockpit panel and controls very well aligned to the physical yoke (using the process I described in this post), which meant the visual matched the expected physical quite well. Third was having a quality, 3D, clickable cockpit of the same airplane I used to fly. I could look down and pull up the virtual flaps handle, just like I used to. In fact, the virtual cabin was so good that I used the virtual throttle rather than my real one.
But most important was the sense of space, distance, and perspective that the 3D virtual environment affords. Very often in my physical cabin I would look out the left or right-hand window (right for KOQN as it’s right traffic) and the field just would not look the same as in the real world – it would not look as high, or have quite the right perspective. While the pattern is still much easier to fly in the “one front, two sides” monitor configuration I have in the sim, it never quite looked the same as real-world. I couldn’t really put my finger on this before, but now having flown in VR the same pattern that I flew so many times in real life, it’s absolutely obvious to me. For all intents and purposes, flying the pattern in VR was almost exactly like it was in the real world – the only exception being that the Warrior in the sim climbs a bit quicker than the real one, and I flew the pattern a bit faster than in the real world (abeam the numbers came up a bit faster than it seemed to in the real bird). But especially with orthophotos underneath, flying that pattern was almost just as I remembered it, as was the landing.
Based on that experience I have come to a pretty interesting conclusion – for pattern work, and probably maneuvers as well, I think the VR headset with a physical yoke and pedals probably provides a better simulated training experience than the physical cabin. I know, and I can’t quite believe I’m writing that. Now let’s be clear – I’m not anywhere near ready to sell the cockpit, and I’m going to fly the VR on PilotEdge later today to see how workable the radios really are. But those laps of the pattern in the headset really struck me. It was so much like the real thing, with a cabin and panels like the real thing, and scenery based on the real thing, and performance close to the real thing, that for me I have to believe it would be better virtual practice for pattern work and maneuvers (at least) than the basement sim. It may be for emergency procedures as well, and I’ll run some to see how it feels (although there will be no checklists to hold, at least not so far). We’ll see how things continue over the next couple of days, but it has me shaking my head yet again.